E.A. Sports Today

A young gun

Eighth-grader Alexander plays well beyond his years, hits two clutch 3s in fourth quarter to lift Oxford to quality win

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – The Oxford roster lists Jaylen Alexander as an eighth-grader, but he doesn’t want the basketball public to look at him like that. And he sure didn’t play like that Thursday night.

The 6-footer who wears No. 0 did everything he could to convince the world he can play beyond his years. He scored 12 points and hit two clutch 3-pointers in tight spots in the fourth quarter to lift the Yellow Jackets to a 69-59 quality win over 3A Plainview.

“I really couldn’t play scared,” Alexander said. “Throughout the game they figured out I was an eighth-grader and I had to show them who I was. I knew I couldn’t play scared or I’d get taken out and probably not get back in the game, so I was just showing them who I was. When I got the opportunity, I knocked down shots.

“I really don’t want people to think I’m an eighth-grader. I want to come out there play at a 12th-grade level or higher than that. I want to play better than an eighth-grader.”

He doesn’t have to go far to convince Jackets coach Joel VanMeter he’s doing that. You don’t play 6A ball as an eighth-grader unless you bring a lot to the table.

“Don’t think of that kid as an eighth-grader because he don’t look like no eighth-grader to me,” VanMeter said. “And that’s his mentality: Don’t look at me at my class, look at me as a basketball player and that’s what he is.

“I coach him every day. Tremendous kid. Emotions never change. Very skilled. He’s a good shooter when it matters. That’s what he is.”

And it mattered in the fourth quarter when he showed no fear on the two biggest shots of his young career to date. Of course, they were open looks, but he still had to knock them down.

Alexander, who transferred to Oxford from Saks as a sixth grader and was playing middle school ball a year ago, hit three 3s in the game. But his two big shots came after his teammates funneled him the rebound off his missed free throw to make it 55-47 with about six minutes left and then two minutes later to put the Jackets up 61-52.

Plainview coach Robi Coker thought they might have been the difference in the game.

“We were about to get back in the game; I thought it was huge,” Coker said. “It’s a high-emotion game, we made a run and an eighth-grader makes two 3s. I thought that might be the difference in the game.”

Another big moment for the Jackets came when Rylan Houck hit a 3 right before the halftime buzzer. It capped a furious 45 seconds in which the Jackets scored five points to take a seven-point lead while the Bears turned it over twice and missed a dunk that would have tied the game.

The Bears are a team that relies on their shooting and when their shot isn’t falling, they struggle or worse.

Their shot wasn’t falling. They hit 10 of 34 3-pointers as a team – half their field goals in the game – but they had only one in each of the second and third quarters. They shot 20 of 59 overall (33.9 percent). Oxford was 22 of 46.

Plainview did get within 63-59 when Houck fouled out with 1:38 to play, but the Yellow Jackets closed it out with six straight free throws while the Bears missed a series of 3s in an attempt to get back in it.

Keeping their composure without Houck in the game was just as big a moment for the Jackets as Alexander’s play as an eighth-grader.

“I think they did a great job pressuring us,” Coker said. “We couldn’t operate the way we wanted to, especially in the half-court. I think they’re really fast (and) their speed bothered us.

“We didn’t shoot it great, but it’s probably because of them. The shooting wasn’t there for us. Our shooting was terrible. We’ve got to make shots.”

Oxford 69, Plainview 59
Owen Wilborn 1-1 0-0 2, Levi Brown 0 0-0 0, Cole Millican 3-12 5-7 12, Dylan Haymon 1-5 0-0 3, Landon White 1-1 0-0 2, Bryce Luther 1-5 0-0 3, Luke Smith 6-17 1-1 14, Sawyer Fraley 0 0-0 0, Jonah Williams 5-15 3-3 17, Ty Griggs 2-3 0-0 6. Totals 20-59 9-11 59.
OXFORD (2-1) –Jaylen Alexander 3 3-4 12, Zurrell Garrett 3 2-2 8, Rylan Houck 5 5-7 16, Kyler Wright 3 5-6 11, Aaron McFarland 2 0-0 6, J.D. Jones 0 2-2 2, Mike McGraw 4 2-4 10, Jayden Lewis 2 0-0 4 Totals 22 19-25 69.
Plainview        14  11 14  20  –  59
Oxford             13  19 17  20  –  69
3-point goals: Plainview 10 (Millican 1-5, Haymon 1-3, Luther 1-4, Smith 1-8, Williams 4-11, Griggs 2-3); Oxford 6-12 (Alexander 3, Houck, McFarland 2). Fouled out: Houck. Total fouls: Plainview 18, Oxford 18.

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